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Braves address past and future at Chop Fest

@mlbbowman
January 25, 2020

ATLANTA -- Mike Soroka smirked as soon as he heard someone say, “When the playoffs ended last year.” But to his credit, the 22-year-old pitcher responded by acknowledging that the disappointing result would have been the same even if he had been given a chance to make two starts in

ATLANTA -- Mike Soroka smirked as soon as he heard someone say, “When the playoffs ended last year.” But to his credit, the 22-year-old pitcher responded by acknowledging that the disappointing result would have been the same even if he had been given a chance to make two starts in the National League Division Series.

“You can always look back and point at things, but there is nothing to say that if I had gone out there in Game 4 or 5 that some of that baseball luck might have hit me as well,” Soroka said.

That “baseball luck” was a reference to the misfortunes Mike Foltynewicz experienced while recording just one out and allowing seven of the 10 runs the Cardinals scored in the first inning of Game 5 of the NLDS. Catcher Brian McCann dropped a fouled third strike -- a strike that would have prevented Dexter Fowler’s leadoff walk -- and Freddie Freeman’s inability to field Yadier Molina’s grounder erased the possibility of limiting the damage to just one run.

When the Braves tabbed Soroka for Game 3 of that best-of-five series, many thought the decision was based primarily on the fact that his stellar road ERA was much better than his home ERA. But he felt the team also wanted to give him a chance to draw from what Dallas Keuchel and Foltynewicz had done in Games 1 and 2, respectively.

Soroka said that Keuchel’s Game 1 outing taught him the importance of never giving in, especially when you didn’t have your best stuff in the postseason. As for Foltynewicz, he developed a blueprint for success against the Cardinals while limiting them to three hits over seven scoreless innings in Game 2.

Had the Braves started Soroka in Game 1, he might have been adversely affected by anxiousness and almost certainly wouldn’t have been brought back to start Game 4 on short rest. The latter potential consequence became more important when reliever Chris Martin’s exit from Game 1 forced Max Fried to assume a more primary bullpen role and erased his availability to be used as a starter.

Had Soroka started Game 2, he might not have outperformed Foltynewicz, but he would have been available to start Game 5 on short rest. Of course, Game 3 might also have had a different outcome if the ball had been given to someone other than Soroka, who allowed one run over seven innings.

But instead of dwelling on the might-have-beens, Soroka is looking forward to this upcoming season, during which he’ll anchor a rotation that in addition to Fried and Foltynewicz will also include Cole Hamels.

“If we all come to compete and we’re all healthy, this is a staff where you could come up with three or four guys that you could consider the ace or the main guy of the staff,” he said. “That is fun. I got to do that in [Class A] Rome. I got to do that in [Double-A] Mississippi when there was a bunch of us that nobody knew who was the best guy on the staff.”

Cemented at the top: Even before Marcell Ozuna was signed earlier this week, manager Brian Snitker said that he never allowed himself to think about the possibility of moving Ronald Acuña Jr. out of the leadoff spot and into the cleanup role. He made that mistake during the early portion of last season and has no desire to do it again.

Ozuna signs 1-year deal with Braves, to play LF

“I was looking at other options, really,” Snitker said. “I was going to more than likely just keep him where he’s at. A year ago, I envisioned the other. But I don’t know. [Ozuna] was a big sign for us to get that legit cleanup hitter, the guy behind Freddie [Freeman].”

A first for Freeman: A pain-free offseason

Happy for Donaldson: Snitker congratulated Josh Donaldson on the four-year, $92 million deal he got from the Twins and thanked him for all that he contributed to the Braves last year. But Dansby Swanson said that “disappointed” isn’t necessarily the right word after a reporter used it in a question asking his thoughts about his former teammate.

“It’s kind of sad,” Swanson said. “He fit in so well here. We enjoyed his competitive nature and enjoyed what he brought on the field. But we also really, really enjoyed things he brought outside of the field. I thoroughly enjoyed having him as a teammate. He was one of my favorites. It’s a little sad seeing him go. But he made a choice that he believes is best for him, and that’s really all you can ask for, for a friend.”

Ready to battle: Though there's a chance Austin Riley could become the starting third baseman at some point during the upcoming season, Johan Camargo will go to Spring Training in a much better mindset than he did last year, when he never adapted to the decision to move him to a backup role to make room for Donaldson.

Camargo has lost approximately 15 pounds and is admittedly mentally stronger than he was during last year’s disappointing season.

“My mind is stronger than last year, and I am ready for this season,” Camargo said.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.